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Street Talk

The Commonwealth Of Water Valley

By the time this makes print, the National Main Street conference in Pitts-burgh, Pennsylvania will be just over. But at this writing on Monday night the opening day is just done. There’s a three-hours session tomorrow morning, on Tuesday, called “Teach a Town to Fish.” 

Water Valley was asked to present the story of our downtown’s return. It has been a 10-year process, as noted last week in this paper. And this ten-year effort has been by a multitude of people who, in bringing this downtown back, by using the past, literally what was built before, are making our way to a better future. It’s a better future for all who live here.  

It has been a concerted and determined effort by many Valley citizens, and  it was with help via the philosophical underpinnings the National Main Street program and advice from Mississippi Main Street, I can tell you, it was self-started effort and is purely local driven by the people who live here. And at this national meeting of some 1,500 towns, the Valley has been in the last five years often featured as a small town that has re-captured its own destiny. 

So, as I sat in the opening plenary session of this conference and listening to the speakers I thought of what the Valley has been through and what we’re still up against. 

The mayor of Pittsburgh told an abbreviated history the town, the story of modern Pittsburgh is one of incredible decline and stunning re-birth. The industry that support the town just left in the 1970s and by the late 1990s better than half of the town’s population had left. And how by making choices, solid but tough choices for the better, that they brought Pittsburgh back. The deputy secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (they say commonwealth and not state) Department Community and Economic Development, a former small town mayor, stressed that his current office was community and economic development, as the two go hand in hand. 

Patrice Frey, Main Street’s CEO and President and Yalobusha beer fan said that despite reports to the contrary, Main Street is alive and well. But she said if you believe in the power of Main Street, now is the time for advocacy, to state your position and beliefs. Ed McMahon, founder of Scenic America and now with the Urban Land Institute and an Alabama native, said economic development is about choices. That a town’s decline happens one project or one building at a time. That the most valuable thing for a town is a place uniqueness. That there is a competitive advantage is in the unique characteristics of place. That place making is economic development. 

In Water Valley’s City Hall there’s a sketch on the wall, a montage that says “Water Valley” with five buildings and all the buildings like the Bank of Water Valley, the Blackmur Hotel, and the two-story depot are gone. Lost uniqueness. We’re about to lose again in the trucked in from out-of-state assembly line trailers. A trailer town.

It is wrong direction, even this doubling of the current trailer park capacity in the city. Now you might say the zoning allows it and in the very specific it does, but in the greater good general intent of the zoning effort it does not. That’s a real conflict in the document. Zoning is only a guide and the general intent is for the benefit of the many over the interests of a few. It has been changed before for that very reason, with positive results.

Is this trailer town good for the town? 

No, in so many ways? Is it needed and does anyone who lives here want it? 

No. Does it make us a better place? 

No. Will it make us another sad place with a darkness on the edge of Main Street. Yes. It is not what the people want for the commonwealth of Water Valley.

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